In a word, Friends and Partners is about "community". In our electronic
context, community can take many forms - whether it represents a group
which cooperatively maintains a Web server; or a group of friends
who gather daily in the F&P Chat Room; or one of the F&P email listservers
that provides a discussion forum for a group with some common set of interests
or concerns; or whether we refer to the entire family of Friends and Partners
servers, listservers, bulletin boards, chat rooms which, together, are
used to better educate each other about each other, Friends and Partners
is about communities of people learning to talk to, learn from, and work
with each other.
When we started Friends and Partners in January, 1994, we used community in
the broadest sense - community between individuals and organizations
located all over the world who shared some interest in US/Russian (more
broadly, NIS/"west") relations. But we recognize that the community
closest to each of us is that in which we live and breathe - and which is
generally defined by a city, or a neighborhood, a rural area, or a
relatively small geographic region and sometimes referred to as "proximal
In our fascination with the global communities that the Internet makes
possible to us now, we should not ignore how these same technologies might
be used in our own local communities. The reasons are perhaps best
summarized by the "Bellagio Declaration" - from a recent conference in
Italy on communications and social change:
- Every voice has the right to be heard and should have the means to be
- Communications systems and technology must therefore be affordable,
accessible to all.
- To work best, communications must allow a flow from many to many, rather
than from one to many.
- Communities must play an essential role in finding their own
We believe that unmediated communications processes, in which all of us may
communicate freely and directly with one another will endow each of us with
a greater sense of our own possibilities, enrich our cultures through
direct contact with all other cultures, create a conversation without
limits in which each voice may be equally heard, and from which societies
of such enlightenment might arise that tolerance, self-determination, and
active participation shall become common on the earth.
We believe in the power of strong, vivid, and personal images to transform
consciousness. And we believe that the images and stories that define and
shape a group, a community or a people are theirs alone to make.
We believe that ideas with the power to enhance our lives are arising from
voices too long excluded from the larger human discourse. These are the
voices of people from the edges of the world, from the margins of society.
They may own neither presses nor broadcasting towers, but they may well own
Moved to action by these principles, we have agreed to work together toward
free and open access by all people to the tools of communications, to reach
out to communities around the world for their ideas and their strength and
to welcome new understanding and new knowledge from wherever it might
Local community networking in Russia
The potential certainly exists for using modern information technologies
for furthering open society building and democratization by increasing
communications and information exchange between citizens and their
governments, and providing a vehicle for more participatory community
planning and local self-governance. The growing global experience with
electronic local community networks suggests its relevance for communities
in Russia - many of which are now beginning to take notice of and have
access to the Internet.
There are many barriers to community network development in Russia. We are
not naive enough to think that this development will happen easily or
quickly. But we feel that it is important, at this earliest phase of
community network development in Russia, that models are provided which
provide a good demonstration of its potential.
Community networks are not merely web sites about communities. At a
minimum, a community network must provide for development of a rich base of
local information by encouraging individuals to provide/manage their own
information and communications services; they must provide some level of
public access to local and global communications and information resources
and deal with the myriad barriers to access (including education and
training); and, very importantly, they must provide a rich set of tools,
opportunities, and "events" for encouraging local communications,
discussion, and debate.
Discipline-focused community networks
The value of local community networking will be significantly enhanced by
encouraging and facilitating participation in discipline-focused community
networks. For example, local educators benefit from access to information
exchange and communications with educators dealing with similar problems
in other communities; NGOs from easy access to information from
(and communications with) their counterparts in other communities. This
same idea is easily extended to local government officials and individuals
in other professional disciplines. One of the principal enhancements to
basic community networking that we would like to bring to this project is
to use the resources of local community networks to help construct and
maintain these discipline-focused networks. The larger F&P "intranet" will
be used to gather information from remote sites into the local 'nodes'
which are more easily accessible to local users.
While there are many technical issues that must be dealt with for
establishing local community networks in Russia and while we feel that our
experience and ideas should help us with unique and innovative technical
implementation, the real issues involved in successful community networking
are not technology-based. Rather, they depend upon cultural, education,
and training factors which can only be resolved in the local communities.
What we would like to offer is to help foster and support a community of
individuals and organizations dedicated to the idea of community networking
and then use technology, our experience, and a lot of hard work to
help get the process started.
At this still early but rapidly growing phase of network and information
infrastructure development in Russia we feel it is important to build
models which provide good demonstration of civic networking's potential.
There are a few services in Russia now which use the label "community
network" but which are, in fact, "web sites" about local communities.
While not discounting the value of these services with regards to
promoting local communities to the outside world, these are not civic
networks in the 'traditional' sense of the term and do not supply the same
value. By providing good models now, we intend to illustrate how civic
networks are social as well as technological tools - and help build the
case for a broader civic networking initiative throughout the Russian
The pages which follow outline our plans to further the Friends and
Partners initiative with development of civic networks in Russia - and
with plans to link these networks in such a way as to facilitate larger
regional and national networking - between educators, non-governmental
organizations, local and regional government officials, and individual
citizens. And by linking local networks - and their constituent
organizations and citizens - with similar organizations in other parts of
the world, we will continue working towards our goal of fostering
cooperation across national boundaries as well.
To accomplish this work, we will continue building upon the momentum of
the F&P effort, draw upon the myriad resources of the F&P community
(including our own excellent staffs in Russia and in the U.S.), utilize
our organizational and technical experience in local and global community
networking, and add some unique technical capabilities to support the
development of a robust information/communications "intranet" to help link
and "mirror" various services across the Internet.
Five month planning project
This is an ambitious effort. Thus, we are proposing a 5 month planning
project in order to research community networking and its application in
Russia, to develop basic software and communications infrastructure, to
build a prototype civic network to be used for public evaluation, to build
public information resources on civic networking in Russia, and to widely
advertise and solicit participation on an initial community networking
project. During this period, we will also work to transfer knowledge,
organizational experience and technology from the American team, which has
been heavily involved - both organizationally and technically Ñ in
civic networking in the U.S.
In this planning project, we propose 5 months of rather intensive effort
to lay basic infrastructure for a strong civic networking initiative in
Russia and to identify 3-4 communities in Russia in which local interest
and infrastructure provide fertile ground for development of solid civic
At the end of the 5 month planning project, we will be ready to begin work
on implementation - with hopeful continued partnership with the Ford
Foundation and other interested funding organizations - of these initial
community network sites and to help build momentum for civic networking in
communities throughout Russia.
The following describes the rest of this project description.
We began the grant project in April, 1997 and must complete work in 5
months. The end result will be the identification of 3-4 communities in
partnership with whom initial community networks will be established and
with whom a proposal for this implementation stage will be submitted to the
Ford Foundation (in cooperation with other interested funding agencies).
We would like to take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude to
the Ford Foundation for active support and encouragement.
I'm going to turn on the light, and we'll be two people in a room looking at each other and wondering why on earth we were afraid of the dark. - Gale Wilhelm